Jonaraja, the 15th century chronicler of Rajatarangini, has recorded an interesting dialogue between Sultan Shihabuddin (1354-73) of Kashmir and his minister, Udaysri. The minister had suggested to the king to melt a grand brass image of Buddha and use the metal for minting coins.
The infuriated Sultan remarked: "The past generations have set up images to obtain fame and even merit, and you propose to demolish them. Some have obtained renown by setting up images of Gods, others by worshipping them, some by duly maintaining them and some by demolishing them. How great is the enormity of such a deed!".
The words were the Sultan's, but it was the soul of Kashmir speaking through him. It is a soul steeped in the ethos and morality of rishi movement.
The Kashmiris, regardless of their religious affiliation, revere Lalleshwari (Lall Ded), the wandering Shaivaite mystic woman, and Nund Rishi (Sheikh Nuruddin), the Muslim saint. This guru and disciple duo belonging to the 14th century, deeply affected, rather inflected, the Kashmiri psyche. Their sayings in simple Kashmiri language are short, sweet, inspiring and laden with moral and spiritual insights are described as "pearls of Kashmiri literature". Two small couplets can help to understand their lifelong mission and the humanism they instilled in Kashmiri mind.
Shiva abides in all that is, everywhere
Then discriminate not between a Hindu and Muslim.
We belong to the same parents
Then why this difference
Let Hindus and Muslims worship God alone
We came to this world like partners
We should share our joys and sorrows together.
This is the glorious heritage of Kashmir; a heritage rooted in the concept of fellowship of adherents of various religious traditions. It is true that the history of Kashmir mentions about the excesses of Suha Bhatt, an overzealous neo-Muslim minister of Sultan Sikandar, but same accounts show that Rishi Nuruddin boldly stood against "forced conversions and orthodoxy".
Till date the name of Rishi Nuruddin commands respect and inspires Kashmiris, whereas Suha Bhatt has been relegated to the dustbin of history.
The recent blooper by the J&K government in the Amarnath shrine case, when viewed in the perspective of history, clearly shows the contrast between the inanities of government and the sanity of public mind.
The Muslim family of Buta Malik has been guarding the Shrine of Amarnath since 1850, and looking after the devout pilgrims, but the government of the state charged with the responsibility to look after the welfare of all visitors, not just the pilgrims, shamefully abdicated its duty in the face of the threat from divisive forces.
The issue at stake is not some facilities for the pilgrims or lack thereof. In fact, the mindset of the pilgrims is such that they equate physical discomfort with religious merit. But the crucial question is whether governments will take their decisions on merit or vacillate whenever faced with communal threats.
The eclectic and syncretic teachings of the Kashmiri rishis had produced a tremendous social, moral and spiritual movement and fashioned a distinct Kashmiri way of life, that was almost totally free from any communal hatred or violence.
It was not just because of physical beauty, but also because of the peaceful Kashmiri way of life that Kashmir gained the reputation of being paradise on earth.
The last two decades of violence and terrorism have caused a temporary setback to centuries old Kashmiri values of peace, harmony and goodwill, but there is every reason to believe that the ever living influence of the rishis shall again assert itself to reclaim the paradise that Kashmir has lost.
Arif Mohammed Khan is a former union minister.